Are Hollywood movies original anymore?

October 24, 2019

As original as ever

It’s true: Hollywood has a bad case of sequel-itis. The “Fast and Furious” franchise currently has nine films, with a tenth on the way. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has bloated to 23 total movies, along with several spin-off TV shows. Even Disney, the mastermind that came up with classics such as The “Lion King” and “Aladdin” is releasing hollow live-action remakes of these films in an obvious attempt to cash in on nostalgia and score big numbers at the box office. These days, it feels like Hollywood is made up of big studios pumping out the same old methodical remakes and sequels in an effort to line their pockets.

In reality, however, there are original movies constantly released in Hollywood that are being overshadowed by the likes of Universal and Disney, who market their movies substantially more than some of these smaller studios. This creates the perception that all that’s out there is big budget franchises, when in reality, that’s not true. They simply have the backing of a larger studio and therefore are made more known to the public than smaller movies. It’s a vicious cycle: these blockbusters make hundreds of millions because audiences flock to them, so these studios have the money to shove the advertisement for the sequel down your throat. For every “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake, there are several original, creative movies that people just don’t hear about because they don’t have the studio backing of the larger movies.  

Moreover, even though many of these rehashed movies may seem formulaic on the surface, there is actually quite a bit of creativity underneath in some instances  Take the third Thor movie “Thor: Ragnarok,” for example.  The first two had gotten a mediocre reception, so in the third installment, Marvel strayed from the comics, infusing it with an 80’s-inspired color palette and a more lighthearted tone.  The movie received rave reviews and is praised as one of the best Marvel movies, exemplifying the originality that exists even within these big movie franchises.

There is a false perception that movies aren’t unique anymore, and this problem lies not within Hollywood, but the viewers themselves. There’s a reason that these sequels make so much money: we go to see them, constantly. We, as viewers, are drawn back to spend hundreds of dollars every summer to see what our favorite characters are up to. Many of these unique movies don’t have mass appeal—and that’s what makes them what they are. The art of filmmaking is amazing because if you don’t want to watch the comedic satire of the Nazi party in “Jojo Rabbit”, then you can watch “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”’s sprawling depiction of 1960’s Hollywood, or “Midsommar”’s terrifying depiction of cults and pagan rituals. These movies are just a fraction of what has released only this year. There is so much out there to explore in cinema, but the majority of audiences simply don’t care. They would rather watch another bland remake, which lends to these truly extraordinary movies going under the radar.

Yes, many of these blockbusters are easy to watch. They’re formulaic action movies, or comedies. The good guys beat the bad guys and everyone goes home happy in the end. But, they don’t challenge the viewer. They don’t make the viewer think. They aren’t ambiguous or open to interpretation. There are very few blockbuster movies where the audience comes out of the movie thinking, analyzing what they just watched. The average movie-goer doesn’t necessarily want to be challenged to think analytically about a movie and its themes; they just want a feel-good popcorn movie, which ultimately leads to many of these innovative, thought-provoking movies feeling unfavorable to many movie-goers. Incredible original movies are out there; they’re not hiding. Audiences just need to ditch the franchises, go out, and challenge themselves with amazing original movies.

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Hollywood is starting to lack content that is truly, or mostly, original. As production companies create movies solely in the capitalistic pursuit of money, the content that makes it to the big screen with multi-million dollar budgets becomes increasingly narrow.  

The success of movies like “Avengers: Endgame”, “The Lion King”, and “Toy Story 4” lie in a combination of large production budgets and audience familiarity.

Movies like “Endgame”, with over $300 million as its production budget, have no choice but to be successful with the amount that has been spent on them. That multimillion dollar investment goes into countless advertising campaigns to garner millions in income, a privilege most movies will never get. Imagine if all producers had access to that much money, the variety of most popular movies would change drastically allowing more variety in Hollywood. But that is not the case.

The top seven grossing movies in 2019 (“Endgame,” “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 4,” “Captain Marvel,” “Spiderman: Far From Home,” “Aladdin,” and “It: Chapter Two”) all fit into one of three categories: sequel, based off a comic, or a remake. This continuation of these old story lines makes Hollywood seem like it is losing its originality, and it is. Hollywood is losing its originality, but not due to a lack of writers. It is losing its originality because major production companies are investing their money into franchise markets they have already found fruitful, the safe bets.

An example of this is the investment of the world into the Avengers franchise. With the popularity of the Marvel franchise, investing $357,115,007  into the production budget was no big deal. “The Lion King” (1994) had a special place in the hearts of children and young adults alike, making it a sure bet for gaining a huge audience; the same is true for “Toy Story”. Critics complain about this lack of originality, with the fault going to producers, but Hollywood is not solely responsible for this repetition –it’s us, the viewers. Hollywood is a profit-based entity, therefore, as long as we retweet, rave about, and support solely the same kinds of movies, companies will continue to milk their cash cows thus drawing out washed up storylines way beyond where they should have been stopped, like the “Fast and Furious” movies.

Now, there is some originality happening. The eighth top grossing film “Us” was an original piece by Jordan Peele. A horror film that, as confusing as it was, had a plot of its own that hoped to not only scare you, but to make you think about its meaning on top of all the allegories he wrote into the script. Whether it was good or not, it was the first movie on the list this year to not be a sequel or remake. It also scored the highest opening weekend for an original horror film of $70 million. Props to that.

Another original, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” by Quentin Tarantino, broke away from the mold and created a movie about the Manson family cult that took the life of actress Sharon Tate and four others. But instead of them dying, like in real life, they were able to kill the cultists. A happier ending, I suppose. It ranked 15th.

If you look at Box Office Mojo which lists the top grossing films and their rankings, you will see that all of the new content has a smaller budget and a small gross. Well if all the money that studios have is going to these big budget films, how can original content and newer writers find their place in the cinematic market? It can’t. Without funding the original content that definitely exists out there, studios will continue to gravitate towards the easier choice of repetition.

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